lyrics from the folksong 青春舞曲 should read 我的青春小鳥一樣不回來.

It was 2002. I was in Hong Kong for a work-related visit. I don't remember where exactly in Hong Kong it was or what led me there, but there I was, in the audience of a kind-of remembrance event on the passing of Singapore theatre practitioner Kuo Pao Kun. A mic was set up in front of the small auditorium. The carpet and curtains were a deep dark blue. There may have been a lit candle (but memory plays dramatic tricks). A group of Hong Kongers were in the audience. There were some speeches in Cantonese.

Recent discussions about LKY's legacy, civil society (ah, the AWARE saga) and an arts NMP brought back memories of this experience in Hong Kong, as well as those very brief, by-the-way encounters with Mr Kuo. I wonder if younger folks on this island will remember and study his works? Because it was reading Kuo Pao Kun's Papers and Speeches, Volume 7 from his Complete Works (ed. Quah Syren, World Scientific Publishing) that made it clear why he is often missed - not just as a dramatist, but as a kind of cultural voice, the closest we get to a public intellectual.

Perhaps his plays, essays and speeches come across as powerful because they carry with them an equivalent weight in action and in a life well lived. He thought, he wrote, he felt, but he also interacted, taught/mentored, acted on his vision, and influenced and inspired private individuals and public officials to contribute. In addition to his plays, he founded the Practice Performing Arts School, the Theatre Practice, the Substation (this island's first independent art centre), and the Theatre Training and Research Programme.

It is 2am and I realise now I was being too ambitious in wanting to highlight some of the observations about the arts, culture and civil society he has made! Far wiser to simply recommend the 10-volume complete works, including the 7th volume containing his essays and speeches. There is also Kuo Pao Kun: And Love the Wind and Rain (image left), a 2002 volume with a few of his essays, some recordings, and the reflections of his peers and other artists. The books are guaranteed to start you thinking... and hopefully, acting! After all, Kuo Pao Kun's most quoted phrase (the title of an essay/article he wrote?) is "Better a worthy failure than a mediocre success".


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